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Quality performance appraisals.


Performance appraisals are among the most controversial and stressful practices in organizations. Neither managers nor employees are ever totally satisfied with the appraisal system and reporting form used in the organization. Many go through a review and revamping of their appraisal system every few years to try to correct criticisms or to take a new direction, given changes in management or the promising look of another approach gaining popularity. Human nature being what it is there will always be at least a small proportion of managers and employees who will be dissatisfied with their performance appraisal system. Management should strive to ensure that their system is technically-sound including current state-of-the-art, fair to all employees, legally defensible areas. It should be subjected to formal evaluation and revision on a regular basis, perhaps, on a 5-7 year cycle. It is also important that stakeholders participate in achieving these objectives by getting their inputs and commitment. For example, union representatives and employee representatives of major functional areas (production, marketing, administrative services) should be participants in developing, evaluating, and revising the organization's appraisal system.

With this global picture in mind, let's look at two major sources of problems and dissatisfaction with any appraisal system - organizational problems and supervisory problems.



Organizations tend to use performance appraisals for a variety of purposes. One recent study identified 20 uses which could be grouped into four categories. One category consisted of uses in which the employee is compared to other employees; for example, in making performance comparisons for purposes of promotion, termination, pay-offs, or retention. Another category consisted of uses in which the employee is the focus; for example, in identifying employee strengths and weaknesses for training needs, job assignments, or transfers. A third category consisted of uses in the organization's human resource management area; for example, in identifying organizational training needs and personnel planning. The fourth category consisted of uses for documentation; for example, in documenting personnel decisions and meeting legal requirements.

While it is encouraging to know that appraisals are frequently used for many different purposes, it is disturbing to also discover that some purposes are conflicting, and such conflicts may be the source of some of the continued dissatisfaction with appraisal systems. For example, listing an employee's weaknesses would be necessary in order to identify training and development activities for the employee; however, a list of weaknesses would likely be fatal to any consideration for promotion even though the employee might desire a promotion. With appraisal reports being put to conflicting or incompatible uses, supervisors often find themselves in the difficult position of deciding what cult position of deciding what information to include, or exclude, depending upon the potential consequences of the information. Such a state of affairs is unfair to both the supervisor and the employee being assessed. Clearly, organizations need to examine the ways in which they use appraisals and to identify and resolve conflicting uses. One appraisal form cannot satisfy all organizational needs. Organizations might consider separate processes for promotion decisions or for identifying individuals for lay-offs, thereby keeping the performance appraisal process focuses on its core uses - to give the employee performance feedback and to identify areas that need improvement and develop action plans to overcome weaknesses.


Much of the criticism of appraisals is directed at supervisors. Such criticism frequently reflects employee beliefs that appraisals are subjective, not objective. Even though an organization may have developed a comprehensive and objective appraisal system, researchers have found that supervisors can be the weal link in the system. Supervisors preparing performance appraisals can contaminate their appraisals, albeit unknowingly, with all sorts of rating errors or biases including any of the following commonly reported:


- This bias occurs when an employee with a high rating in one job responsibility area or quality also receives high ratings in other areas even though high ratings are not warranted.


- Analogous to the halo effect, the horn effect results when a poor rating in one area unjustly affects ratings in other job performance areas resulting in a poor overall appraisal.


- This bias occurs when employees are rated based upon their first impressions on the supervisor rather than on their job performance throughout the appraisal period.


- This is the flip-side of initial impression; only the most recent behaviors are taken into account rather than job performance throughout the appraisal period.


- Occurs when supervisors are overly harsh in rating employee performance resulting in ratings lower than the norm, or warranted.


- The bias of giving higher ratings than warranted by the employee's job



- Allowing past performance appraisal ratings, whether good or bad, to unjustly influence current ratings.


- This common bias is simply giving ratings which are average or the mid-point on scales rather than making the effort to give valid ratings.



Fortunately, there are techniques available at the organizational level, and the supervisory level, to improve the accuracy, fairness, and defensibility of appraisals. Organizational techniques including the following:

* Develop a comprehensive policy for the performance appraisal system and communicate that policy to all employees.

* Include stakeholder participation.

* Implement a professionally developed appraisal reporting form which reflects the state-of-the-art in performance appraisal.

* Develop and implement a training module (eg. video and rating guide) for all supervisors to ensure a common standard within the organization and minimize rater bias.

* Evaluate your appraisal system periodically and revise as required.

* Ensure that complete appraisal documentation is maintained and that confidentiality is enforced. These points are important in the event of litigation.

* Ensure that your appraisal system is not used for conflicting purposes.

At the supervisory level many techniques exist to improve the accuracy and fairness of performance appraisals and these should be emphasized in the training module.

* Set written performance goals and standards at the beginning of each appraisal period. These should be negotiated and discussed with each employee.

* Keep a performance log or diary on each of your employees rather than relying on memory for the appraisal period. Included in the log would be all critical incidents as well as less significant but noteworthy behaviors.

* Give each employee performance feedback periodically during the appraisal period rather than just at the end of the period: Feedback provides reinforcement for good job behaviors and the early opportunity to correct poor performance areas.

Performance appraisals can, and should, serve useful purposes for the organization and employees alike. Managers need to be sure that their appraisal system is technically-sound, fair, helpful and legally defensible.

Bob has published extensively in the management and behavioral sciences fields and is currently an Associate Professor of Management University of Lethbridge and the proprietor of Canpro Consulting Associates.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Loo, Robert
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Dec 22, 1989
Previous Article:Managing stress in the workplace.
Next Article:How to succeed in business; likely a matter of employee opinion.

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